WordPress Security and Maintenance

I have been working with WordPress for over 8 years now and I still love it as a blog and content management system (CMS). When I started working with WordPress, I didn’t have to worry much about people trying to hack my site or find vulnerabilities. That was something that happened to the big guys, not us smaller sites. Well, no more. Now WordPress sites as well as other website platforms are under attack. How does WordPress get attacked? I’ll let Sucuri explain in this very thorough blog post they published a few months ago. Instead I thought I would share with you a few of my favorite tools for maintaining and securing WordPress.

Managed Hosting
This is a change I made recently when launching the new Marketing Roadhouse. My previous hosting company was great, but the onus of security was 100% on my shoulders with regards to WordPress installations. When I was looking for a platform that provided all the functionality I wanted for this site, it was an extra bonus that the hosting was managed meaning the company proactively monitors for malware and attacks. There are several companies out there that specialize in WordPress hosting and I suggest checking them out if you don’t want to manage your own WordPress.

BackupBuddy
If you have ever updated WordPress and/or a plugin and it caused an issue on your website, then you know how important it is to do back-ups. BackupBuddy is an easy to use plugin that allows you to perform database and full backups either manually or scheduled. You also have several options for storing that backup off-site of your website host which I strongly recommend. Do a backup before any upgrades, so that you can revert back to that backup if something goes wrong. BackupBuddy also helps you move your website from one hosting company to another.

iThemes Security Pro
Upon installing iThemes Security Pro, you do a scan of your site. The plugin will provide you a list of things you need to do in order to secure your site as well as the level of importance to perform each one. The plugin does malware scans and can lock users out that try to access files they shouldn’t. I will give credit to this tool for saving one of my sites by alerting me to a high number of people trying access files that didn’t exist. I was able to make some changes using iThemes Security Pro to tighten security even more and keep my site from being under attack.

Sucuri
While I don’t currently use this service, I have used it in the past for one of my clients and really liked it. This service is not only for WordPress and supports many other platforms. The system scans for Malware and will clean it up as well. They can also help with blacklist removal and repair. To me, the best part of the service is that they will help you remove the malware from your site, not just tell you it is there.

I am not being compensated by any of these companies mentioned. I use them now or in the past and have been happy with the results. I do install and configure BackupBuddy and iThemes Security Pro for clients, so if you do need any help just let me know. If you don’t have any security tools on your WordPress site, please add it to your to do list.

My 5 Tips to Email Marketing During the Holidays

As a consumer, I have a Love/Hate relationship with email marketing this time of year. I admit it, I love a good deal and many of my favorite retailers promote some pretty good offers. I also like hearing from smaller, independent retailers and makers that do the bulk of their business at the holidays.The amount of emails I receive does get a bit overwhelming, so I do take the opportunity to unsubscribe from a lot of companies I no longer care to hear from or send too many emails.

There is an insurance company in my town that sends an email at every holiday throughout the year. That is the only time I ever hear from them. Mind you, I am not their client, and I never signed up to receive emails from them. Why don’t I unsubscribe? Simply because I am a marketer and I want to see if they ever change their behavior. So far, they haven’t. Their emails have no call to action or any useful information. Just a simple Happy <insert holiday name here>. You could make an argument for branding, but I bet they have a fairly high unsubscribe rate with each email and probably have turned many people off due to adding people to their list with no permission.

Why bring this up? Because I want you to be smarter with your email marketing and I’m going to give you 5 tips as we head into prime email marketing time.

1. Remember that your email list subscribers are your most important group. Don’t overload or annoy them. Treat them special and give them something you don’t give to anyone else. This may be a special promotion, an exclusive offer or useful information that you don’t share any where else. Your readers have given you permission into their busy inbox. Respect that relationship and make it worth it for both parties.

2. Keep mobile in mind. People are on the go all the time and even more so during the holidays, so they are checking email from their tablets and phones. Keep this in mind when you are designing your email. Use a responsive design template which will make your email look good no matter what device it is read from. Limit the number of images you include in your email since some people will be using their data service which is often slower than WiFi. Some people prefer not to download images included in emails, so you want to make sure that your images complement your message and are not central to the message. This way you don’t require people to download the images to see the promotion or information.

3. Collect emails onsite. If you are a maker or artisan participating in shows or open houses this holiday season consider collecting emails at those events. I have done this in the past at shows and found it to be successful. I used the app MC Subscribe from Mail Chimp on my iPad to collect email addresses from people that purchased our soaps or stopped by our table. The beauty of the app is that you don’t have to worry about deciphering handwriting and saves you time of entering them in by hand. No problem if the location doesn’t have WiFi, the app will collect the addresses and synch with your MailChimp account once you are connected to WiFi.

4. Timing. If you are going to do a series of emails throughout the holidays, it is a good idea to get out your calendar. If you are a product company and have deadlines for shipping or delivery, you need to make sure your emails are communicating that and giving your readers enough time to act upon that information. Look at your calendar and write in your deadlines. Now back out the dates to give your readers time to act. This will also allow you to write those promotions ahead of time and schedule them with your email marketing tool. You are going to get busy, so the more you can plan ahead and schedule tasks, the better.

5. Reintroduce yourself. If you are a service company that has not been consistent with sending emails, now is the time to restart your email marketing effort. Take this time to reintroduce yourself and tell your subscribers what they can expect from you in the future. Give people permission to unsubscribe. I just did this and did have some unsubscribe. You know what. It didn’t bother me because I want people on my list that want to be there and interact with me.  Conversations and conversions mean much more to me that how big my list is.

My advice is to take 20 minutes this week and create a quick plan of how you want to either reintroduce yourself to your subscribers or how you are going to promote your product/service this holiday season including dates and content ideas. That 20 minutes will go a long way to making the most of your email marketing relationships.

Take Care of Home Base

In February I spoke at the Frederick Chamber’s New Media and Technology Conference on the topic Digital Detox. I discussed this from both a business and personal point of view. I wasn’t and still am not promoting getting rid of technology, but I am promoting using it to help you and your business, while not being a distraction from your goals. I will cover some of the other topics I discussed during this presentation in the future, but for now I want to talk about taking care of your home base.

Social Networks, especially Facebook, are constantly changing algorithms making it harder to get your message in front of your community. Add in the increase of companies using social media and it becomes even more difficult to break through the noise. If you aren’t spending advertising dollars with these services you are at their mercy as to whether people that want to get your message will actually receive it. For this reason, I believe this is a good time to spend some time focusing on your home base, namely your website and email marketing.

When social media started to become mainstream, many pundits suggested that companies no longer needed a website because Facebook would make websites obsolete. I didn’t buy that advice then and I sure don’t now. Websites, email marketing and social media all work together to create your Internet marketing mix. If you have allowed your website to become a little outdated due to focusing on other platforms, you aren’t alone. However, now is the time to get back to basics and do a little Spring Cleaning. Make sure your website is up-to-date with your latest information and messaging. If you are in the market for a redesign, consider making your website more mobile friendly.

If you have neglected your email marketing, it is now time to jumpstart that effort as well. Promote your sign-up form on your social networks to get more subscribers. These are relationships that you have more control over since you have been invited to send messages directly to the subscribers inbox without an algorithm deciding what will be delivered. Let these users know what they can expect from your email newsletters and promotions. If you haven’t sent an email for awhile, send one to reintroduce your messaging so old subscribers are reminded they signed up and don’t mark future messages as spam.

Now that Spring is upon us and we are all doing a little Spring Cleaning, add some time to your calendar to evaluate your current website and email marketing to see how you can get your home base back into shape.